Authors: Noah Gordon
by Noah Gordon
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 1965 by Lise Gordon, Michael Seay Gordon and
The Jamie Gordon Trust
Cover design by Random House Mondadori
This 2012 eBook published by:
Barcelona Digital Editions, S.L.
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This 2012 edition distributed by Open Road Integrated Media
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For my mother and father,
Rose and Robert Gordon
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â âand for Lorraine
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
And hast crowned him with glory and honor.
Thou modest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
Thou hast put all things under his feet
. . . .
On the winter morning of Rabbi Michael Kind's forty-fifth birthday he lay alone in the oversized brass bed that had once belonged to his grandfather, clinging to the numbness of sleep but listening against his will to the noises made by the woman in the kitchen below.
For the first time in years he had dreamed of Isaac Rivkind. Once when Michael was a little boy the old man had told him that when the living think of the dead, in paradise the dead know that they are loved and they rejoice.
“I love you, Zaydeh,” he said.
It didn't occur to Michael that he had spoken aloud until his ear caught a momentary halt in the noises below. Mrs. Moscowitz wouldn't understand that a man who had just crossed the line into middle age could find comfort in talking to a man who had been dead for almost thirty years.
Rachel was already seated at the old-fashioned dining-room table when he came downstairs. It was a family custom that birthday mornings were celebrated with cards and small gifts piled on the breakfast table. But the perpetuating force behind the custom was Leslie, the Rabbi's wife, and she had been away nearly three months. The place by his plate was empty.
Rachel was slouched forward with her chin buried in the linen tablecloth, her eyes steadily following the text of the book she had propped against the sugar bowl. She had on her blue sailor. All the buttons were buttoned and she wore clean white socks, but as usual her thick blonde hair had been too much for her eight-year-old patience. She was reading with furious concentration, her eyes darting from line to line as she tried to cram in as much as she could before the interruption she knew was inevitable. She gained a few seconds through the entrance into the dining room of Mrs. Moscowitz with the orange juice.
“Good morning, Rabbi!” the housekeeper said warmly.
“Good morning, Mrs. Moscowitz.” He pretended not to
notice her frown. For weeks she had been urging him to call her Lena. Mrs. Moscowitz was the fourth housekeeper they had had in the eleven weeks Leslie had been gone. She kept a dusty house, she made rubbery fried eggs, she disregarded their pleadings for
, and everything she baked came from packaged mixes, for which she expected lavish praise.
“How do you want your eggs, Rabbi?” she asked, setting before him a glass of frozen orange juice he knew would be watery and improperly diluted.
“Soft-boiled, Mrs. Moscowitz, if you please.” He focused his attention on his daughter, who had gained two pages in the interval.
“Good morning. I had better brush your hair for you.”
“Morning.” She turned a page.
“How's the book?”
He lifted it up and looked at the title and she sighed, knowing that the game was over. It was a juvenile mystery. The Rabbi placed it on the floor beneath his chair. From upstairs a burst of sweet sound indicated that Max had awakened sufficiently to reach for his harmonica. When there was time, Rabbi Kind enjoyed playing Saul to his sixteen-year-old son's David, but he knew that unless he interrupted, Max would eat no breakfast.
He called and the music stopped in the middle of one of those ersatz folk songs. A couple of minutes later Max was sitting with them at the table, his face scrubbed shiny and his hair wet.
“Somehow this morning I feel like an old man,” the Rabbi said.
Max grinned. “Hey, Pop, you're still a kid,” he said, reaching for the underdone toast.
The Rabbi tapped his eggshell with a spoon while self-pity settled around him like Mrs. Moscowitz' perfume. The soft-boiled eggs were hard. The children ate theirs without complaint, satisfying their hunger, and he ate his own without tasting, content to watch them. Fortunately, he thought, they resembled their mother, with hair the soft color of candlelight on copper, good white teeth and complexions that demanded the freckles. For the first time he noticed that Rachel was pale. He reached over and took her face in his hand and she nuzzled against his palm.
“Go outside this afternoon,” he said. “Climb a tree. Sit on the ground. Get some cold air in your lungs.” He looked at his son. “Maybe your brother will even take you skating, the big athlete?”
Max shook his head. “No chance. Scooter cuts the team this afternoon and gives permanent positions. Hey, can I get some hockey skates when my Chanukah check comes from Grandpa Abe?”
“You haven't got it yet. If it comes, then ask me.”
“Poppa, can I be Mary in our Christmas pageant?”
“That's what I told Miss Emmons you'd say.”
He pushed back his chair. “Run upstairs and get your brush, Rachel, so I can part your hair the right way. Hurry up, I don't want to keep them from having a
at the temple.”
He drove through the town in the gray morning light of Massachusetts winter. Beth Sholom lay just two blocks north of the Woodborough business district. It was a twenty-eight-year-old building, old-fashioned and well-constructed, and so far he had managed to fend off those in the congregation who wished to build a more modern temple in the suburbs.
He parked under the maple trees and walked from the tiny parking lot up the red brick stairs and into the temple, as he had done every morning for eight years. In his study he traded his overcoat for black robes and his old brown fedora for a black skullcap. Then, murmuring the blessing, he touched the fringes of his
to his lips, threw the prayer shawl around his shoulders, and walked down the deep-shadowed corridor to the sanctuary, automatically counting with his eyes as he said good morning to the men seated on the white benches. Six, including the two mourners, Joel Price, who had just lost his mother, and Dan Levine, whose father had died six months before.
The Rabbi made seven.
Even as he mounted the
two more men came through the front door, stamping the snow from their shoes.
“One more,” said Joel, sighing.
Michael knew he was nervous about the possibility that they wouldn't assemble the ten men necessary to say
, the prayer pious Jews offer each morning and evening for a year
following the death of a parent. The tenth man was the one he always sweated out himself.
He looked out over the empty temple.
Hello God, he thought.
Please Lord make this the day she improves. She is deserving of you. I love her so.
Help her, Lord. Please God. Amen.
He started the service with the morning blessings, which are not community prayers and do not require a
of ten men: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast given to the cock intelligence to distinguish between day and night. . . .” Together they blessed God for granting them faith, freedom, masculinity, and strength. They were praising him for removing sleep from their eyes and slumber from their eyelids when the tenth man arrivedâJake Lazarus, the cantor, with sleep still in his eyes and slumber on his eyelidsâand the men grinned at the Rabbi and relaxed.
When the service was over and the other nine men had dropped coins into the
for indigent transients and said good-by and hurried off to their businesses and jobs, Michael left the
and sat on the white bench in the first row. A shaft of sunlight came through a high window and struck the spot; when he had arrived at Beth Sholom the illuminating ray had appealed to him because of its beauty and melodrama; now he liked it because sitting in its warmth on a winter morning was better than the sunlamp at the YMHA.
He sat for five minutes watching the motes of dust dance up and down the long sun-column. It was quiet in the empty temple, and he closed his eyes and thought of the slow surf in Florida and of the orange trees budding tight and green in California, then of the other places they had been, of deep snow drifting in the Ozarks and of the sound of katydids in Georgia fields and of the woods wet with rain in Pennsylvania. If nothing else, he told himself, failure in many places gives a rabbi a good geographic background.